Described as the world’s oldest virus, anti-Semitism seems to be increasing along with COVID-19. Most recently, anti-Semitic remarks by several high-profile athletes and entertainers reminded us that these are particularly dangerous times.
The pandemic, the recession and the increasing polarization of political views present conditions under which anti-Semitism tends to flourish. So it is no surprise that we are seeing the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents in the US in the past 40 years.
White supremacists are tweeting about Holocaust denial, claims of Israel committing genocide and falsehoods involving Jewish world domination and control of the media. And there are similar accusations from the left. A small but vocal minority in the Black Lives Matter movement pollutes their message by promoting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tropes.
Last Friday, we lost a good friend with Representative John Lewis’ passing. When Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched together in Selma, Lewis, then 25, was there with them (in far left of photo.) In 2009, when he crossed police lines outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest the genocide in Darfur, he was arrested alongside Rabbi David Saperstein. In 2017, when he spoke out after vandals desecrated dozens of gravestones at a Philadelphia Jewish cemetery, Lewis said:
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. compared the spread of hatred to an ‘unchecked cancer’ that corrodes the very fabric of our society. If we truly believe in the equality of every human being and the inherent right to individual liberty, then there is not any room in our society for these acts of hate. To allow anti-Semitism, violence and other campaigns of hate and fear to continue unconstrained threatens the safety and security of every American.”
John Lewis understood that when you show up for the causes that matter to your friends, they are more likely to show up for you. When he drew Trump’s Twitter wrath for saying he was not a “legitimate president,” the Anti-Defamation League came to his defense and tweeted back:
Anti-Semitism isn’t really a Jewish problem. It’s a manifestation of a society’s fears and flaws acted out on a people seen as alien. While Jews are often the initial target of bias and hatred when a scapegoat is sought, we are never the only minority to suffer.
Regardless of where we stand politically, each of us must call out anti-Semitism and racism whenever and wherever we encounter it in public discourse. We must amplify our responses through our social media platforms and by sharing them with co-workers, friends and family.
We are truly facing a critical moment in our nation’s history. Let us — individually and collectively — make this the time when we stand with other minorities. Because when you show up for the causes that matter to your friends, they are more likely to show up for you.
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